DUBAI: England's decision to drop discard Ian Bell for the tour of South Africa which starts next month was met with a mixture of sadness and fury.
Players who reach 100 Tests have generally earned the right to depart on their own terms. Now Bell has joined the likes of Ian Healy and Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the small club of players who were dropped before they could get a chance to retire. Another member of the 100-and-out club, Kevin Pietersen, reacted angrily, describing the decision as "pathetic".
"How can you have somebody who has played over 100 Tests for England, with the biggest Test series of the year coming up, and you drop him?" Pietersen said of his former team-mate, with whom he also shares a management company. "It's absolutely ridiculous. You have to take him for his experience, you just have to take him."
Team selection is a fine art rather than a science even Sir Alex Ferguson occasionally used to toss a coin if he was wavering. But for all the surprising timing of Bell's omission, it was also a decision with a great deal of logic.
Simply put, Bell's lack of form over the long-term has told. He has not scored a Test century for 24 innings and averages just 29.5 since his sparkling Ashes summer of 2013. "Absolutely gutted," was Bell's verdict.
Andrew Strauss, England's director of cricket, broke the news to Bell in person on Wednesday and the message from Bell was that he would fight to regain his place. "I certainly feel I could have contributed," Bell said, before revealing that he would use the opportunity to take a winter break with his family for the first time in 11 years.
Bell has not retired and national selector James Whitaker was keen to stress that the door remained open for an international recall. But there is clearly a danger that Bell will be cast out permanently, which would bring down the curtain on England's third-highest Test century maker of all time. Only Pietersen and Alastair Cook have scored more than Bell's 22 Test hundreds.
"It was a very difficult decision, and not taken lightly," Whitaker said. "It's been fairly obvious
over the last seven or eight months that he's struggled for form. It will give him time to reflect now, and come back stronger. Experience is great, but England players have to perform."
There were other surprises: a recall for Nick Compton, who was contentiously dropped in 2013 despite scoring two centuries in New Zealand the previous winter. Outspoken comments about how he had been treated by the previous regime seemed to count against him. But a new regime brings a new broom, and his unerring consistency at county level, scoring 1,000 first-class runs in each of the past five seasons, have brought Compton back into the fold.
Compton will deputise for Alex Hales, who will be given a chance to open the batting in South Africa, but his best chance of selection may come by challenging Ballance at No.3, which is where he bats in county cricket.
The fact that as many as three players have a chance of batting at first drop - Joe Root could also be shifted up a spot is evidence of England's lingering uncertainty over this most crucial of positions.
There is one uncapped player: Mark Footitt, the left-arm fast bowler who has just moved from Derbyshire to Surrey, will go on his first senior tour after injuries to Steven Finn and Mark Wood.
Whitaker disclosed that Somerset's Craig Overton was "close" to the side, and that this tour probably comes a year or two too early for Surrey seamer Tom Curran.
Footitt is not young he will be 30 next Wednesday - but has been on the fringes of the squad for some time now, and is one of the few domestic bowlers who can regularly top 90mph. It is tough on Liam Plunkett, who has barely had a chance to put a foot wrong.
Adil Rashid has also been left out. An average of 70 in three Tests against Pakistan failed to convince the selectors that he was a better bet than Moeen Ali in a country where only one spinner will be required.
He will join the Adelaide Strikers and play in the Big Bash Twenty20 competition, under the guidance of his Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie, while Samit Patel carries drinks as the reserve spinner.
Meanwhile, back in the United Arab Emirates, England are hoping to clinch the one-day international series with victory over Pakistan today. Pakistan won the first one-dayer by six wickets but lost the next two.
"It's a must-win game for us, but it won't be easy because England played well in the last two games," said Azhar Ali, whose future as Pakistan captain may have already been decided.